Friday, 2 November 2012

True Brits! Meet the new breed of Tory MPs who defied their leader over the EU (and most have had jobs in the real world)

There is a genre of action films (eg Kelly’s Heroes) in which desperadoes from various unlikely occupations are moulded into a formidable fighting force. They usually include a charmer, a lush, a bespectacled nerd and, more often than not, a pickpocket.
After early setbacks they become firm comrades and with a few expertly thrown hand-grenades save the day for king and country.
Much the same may be happening with the 2010 intake of Conservative MPs who on Wednesday, in an act of rare parliamentary defiance, told the Coalition Government to be tougher with Brussels over the EU Budget.
Half the 53 Tories who rebelled were ‘newbies’ — ie MPs who only entered the Commons at the last general election.
The amendment which won the night was put by 2010 intaker Mark Reckless, from Kent. Bespectacled Mr Reckless, 41, who has a computer-geek’s voice, spoke with striking, controlled anger about how Europe wastes his constituents’ money.

To see this physically awkward backbencher — previously known best for being a late-night tippler — rise up and conquer the smoothies of Establishment Euro-orthodoxy was the most marvellous moment.
At first inspection the 2010 Tory newcomers are a disparate bunch, markedly so in an era of ‘professional’ politicians. They include a former UN commander in Bosnia, an opera singer, a jockey, a couple of former TV autocuties, a former adviser to the Queen, an Iraqi immigrant, an MI6 man, a history teacher and a former diplomat who at the age of 30 pretty much governed a province of Iraq.
Throw in some lawyers, soldiers, several self-made business men and women, a Welsh-farming grandfather, City types and even an international male pin-up and plutocrat, and you have nothing short of political minestrone. What a contrast they make to the trade unionists and ‘third sector’ professionals of the Labour benches.
Received wisdom has it that the Cameron Tories are nothing but a gang of toffee-nosed Etonians with trust funds. In reality, the modern parliamentary party is unpredictable, clever, independent-minded — as it showed on Wednesday.
Looking down the list of EU budget rebels one finds the name of Bob Stewart (Beckenham), 63, who won the DSO while commanding UN forces in Bosnia in the early 1990s. ‘Colonel Bob’ is a convivial fellow, not necessarily one for small print (particularly after sundown), but possessed of a dogged bloody-mindedness.

When you have gone eyeball to eyeball with murderous Serbs it is not such a big thing to tell a Whip where to hop off the bus.
Others who defied the Whips on Wednesday included Tracey Crouch, 37, a soccer coach and former aide to ex-Tory leader Michael Howard. Miss Crouch, who won Chatham from Labour at the last election, lives for politics (she has yet to find a husband) but she is not a careerist in the dreary sense. She prefers to accept Brownie points from her electors rather than her Whips.

Voting alongside her was burly Andrew Percy (Brigg & Goole), 35, a persistent cock-snooker at the Whips. Ex-teacher Percy would never have tolerated such cheek from his secondary school pupils but he is doing what he thinks his Lincolnshire and East Yorkshire voters want.

Also there: gritty Lancashire solicitor David Nuttall (Bury North), 50; ex-Army officer Adam Holloway (Gravesham), 47; Thatcherite gay-rights campaigner Conor Burns (Bournemouth W), 40; gulpy James Wharton, a solicitor from Stockton South, who is just 28 years old and looks even younger.

Sarah Wollaston, 50, another rebel, is a doctor and mother of three who was picked as Tory candidate for Totnes by an open primary (ie by members of the public rather than just by Tory members). Dr Wollaston, having arrived at Westminster as a political ingenue, seems immune to the usual Commons traits of job-watching and policy-wonk positioning. She examines the evidence, listens to constituents and makes her decision.

She may not be a tub-thumper but this is surely what is meant to happen in a representative democracy. You represent the people, not the vested interests or the cocooned officials.
It is a sign of how unconnected from the voters our politics became in the New Labour years that we find such behaviour noteworthy.
Time and again in the current Commons, it is on the Tory benches where the interesting debates are to be heard. The same occurs in the select committees.
On the Public Accounts Committee, much of the really forensic questioning of civil servants is done by a Tory firebrand called Steve Barclay (NE Cambs), 40, a top former anti-money-laundering investigator with the Financial Services Authority and Barclays.

The newbies are being encouraged by former ministers who have returned to the backbenches and have little affinity with Mr Cameron or, more often, George Osborne. With the select committees now chosen by secret ballot, being a backbencher offers more chances for individuality than in the past.
And with no party having a majority, the Whips have never been weaker, the Coalition having diluted their powers of patronage.
When you have a majority of only 176, as opera singer Nicola Blackwood, 33, does in Oxford West (where she defeated creepy Lib Dem Evan Harris), you tend to crack on with your political life while you can.
But it is not mere circumstance which makes these Tory newbies impressive. They seem to be driven by a plain exasperation at the state into which our country has fallen.
Coming from such varied jobs, often from outside the political ‘village’, they are impatient for change and do not mind crushing a few old time-servers in the process, as recent elections to the Tory backbench 1922 committee showed.
The 2010-ers are a now a major force and they will decide the politics and personality of the next party leader,’ says a member of the 1997 intake. ‘They are small-state, Eurosceptic, pro-grammar schools, doubtful about green issues. They also tend to know what they’re talking about. Most unusual!’
Some of the 2010 Tories have already shot into ministerial positions. They include Treasury Minister Sajid Javid, 42, a Bristol bus driver’s son who became an international banker, and Liverpudlian Esther McVey, 45, a children’s TV presenter who went on to found a successful training company. Her ‘Liver Birds’ accent is a glory to behold at the Despatch Box.
Mr Javid, Miss McVey and other high-flying 2010-ers such as gynaecologist ‘Dishy’ Dan Poulter, 34, and mechanical engineer Alec Shelbrooke, 36, a barrel-tummied force of nature snorting with Yorkshire common-sense could not rebel because they are now on the front bench. Same is true of lots of ministerial aides. But I bet they watched with admiration.
The 2010-ers are not above a little envy. Some have mixed feelings about the publicity given to former Bank of England economist and Business Minister Matt Hancock, and to Dominic Raab (Esher & Walton), a brilliant lawyer from a Czech émigré family who is expert on European law.

However, we mustn’t become rosy-tinted about all the 2010 intake. Some have not shined as one would have hoped, among them was Louise Mensch, 41, who after a promising start, quit her Corby seat to move to New York.

But she and a few other mouldy apples are more than compensated for by the likes of Suffolk Coastal’s Therese Coffey, 40, an accountant in industry, or by Brentford’s Mary Macleod, who used to be a policy adviser at Buckingham Palace, or by Ghanaian-educated Sam Gyimah (E Surrey), 36, a former Goldman Sachs banker who made a fortune by setting up an internet recruitment business.
Or by that quirky monument to learning, North Somerset’s Jacob Rees-Mogg, 43 going on 80.

Time and again it is striking that these people have done things with their lives before going into politics.
Stourbridge’s Margot James, 43, started her entrepreneurial career in haulage. Spelthorne’s Kwasi Kwarteng, 37, has written history books. Penrith’s Rory Stewart, 39, has been a far-roaming diplomat, and Gloucester’s Cantonese-speaking Richard Graham, 54, has run an airline, been an intelligence officer and made a mint in Far East banking.
At 47, Hexham’s Guy Opperman has not only been a barrister and a professional jockey but has also come through a brain tumour. Such people can be almost unWhippable.
UnWhippable? As Wednesday night showed, that means there is a danger they might actually do the bidding of their voters rather than the party managers and the poohbahs of Whitehall and Brussels. This, people, is progress. This is reason for hope.

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